The Maritime Silk Road (MSR), also known as ‘One Belt and One Road’ was mooted in 2013 with the nations of South east Asia by Chinese President during his visit to Indonesia and Malaysia where he opined that it would assist in turning the ‘Global Decade’ between China and Southeast Asian Countries into ‘Diamond Decade’. Now, China has conceptualized a twin program, a land route called the Silk Road and a sea route named 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, extending south ward from its parts through South China Sea, straits of Malacca, Lombok, and Sunda and then along the northern Indian Ocean to Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, for connecting 20 countries with China.
The main purpose of the proposed trade route is to connect the ASEAN countries near India’s eastern and southern coast like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Under this route, Pakistan doesn’t figure but China wants to obtain access to the Arabian Sea on the western side of India by including Pakistan and by doing this the Chinese financed Gwadar Port (Pakistan) will also be involved in this plan. Till now, Maldives and Sri Lanka have already given the approval and China has unveiled its ambitions China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project which will connect the two countries through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (Pok). In addition to this, China is in negotiation with Pakistan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan for building three connective railroads with an objective of reviving the ancient Silk Route and improve regional trade on the economic belt.
IMPLICATION ON INDIA
India is one of the most important countries along the line of ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Route’ and thus, there are varying degrees of interpretations and response from the Indian side. Some of them can be analyzed as below:-
- Indian experts have raised their concern about this route because still China’s strategic intention is not clear. China will strategically befriend all the neighboring countries of India, which will have very detrimental effects on India’s foreign policy
- Sri Lanka, which is the first country to support this route, will attract huge Chinese investment in near future
- Although, Pakistan has officially not accepted this plan, but huge Chinese investment in Gwadar Port shows that Pakistan is likely to give a positive response in coming future
- China is developing port facilities in countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in order to expand trade in the Indian Ocean. This has adversely affected India’s bilateral ties with these countries
- Indian diplomacy in the South Asian countries was not very influencing during the last decade and contrary to this, China has made some progress in strengthening their diplomatic ties in this region
- Majority of Indian foreign policy experts are of the opinion that China’s influence in the India Ocean should be checked
THE WAY AHEAD
Ongoing Indo-China relation in based upon three main assumptions, first Chinese and Indian competition are sustained, second, traditional competition of both countries on land will spill over to the sea, third, India will also become a power in Asia-Pacific region in near future. India should use its geopolitical advantage for its diplomatic and economic benefits in the India Ocean through regional cooperation. It needs further expansion of its maritime influence through regional navigation and trade activities to safeguard its political and economic interests. Thus, the new Silk Route should be a common concern for India and China. Taking into account, in future the navies of both countries may possibly have to early out tasks in the Indian Ocean, and now, it is important for them to build mutual trust by means of cooperation and coordination.